By Stephen Petrick
The Minden Hills Cultural Centre is suddenly without a curator and March Break programs will not happen this year.
It’s worrying news for an important municipally-run operation and tourist attraction, especially given that it’s coming out of fairly quiet COVID years and because it’s faced turnover in the past.
Laurie Carmount, the curator who was responsible for overseeing programs at the centre, which includes the Agnes Jamieson Gallery, Minden Hills Museum and Heritage Village and Nature’s Place, is no longer employed there, a town official confirmed in an email to the Minden Times on Monday.
But the email, from Minden Hills Community Services Director Craig Belfry, did not answer whether Carmount left voluntarily or if she was fired.
“The township does not comment on previous or current employees,” Belfry wrote. “I can confirm that Laurie Carmount is no longer employed with the Township of Minden Hills. The municipality will unfortunately be cancelling the March Break program at the Cultural Centre, as staffing levels are not in place to offer these programs in a safe and successful manner. To date, there had been no registrations for the program.”
Belfry added, “the municipality will now begin the process to recruit staff, and we are looking forward to an excellent summer season. The Minden Hills Cultural Centre is a valued integral part of the community, and we are confident in the future of the centre, and all of its potential.”
When contacted by the Times, Carmount declined comment at this time.
When reached by phone on Monday night, Minden Hills Mayor Brent Devolin also declined to reveal whether the departure was voluntary or a dismissal.
“With anything that has to do with HR, there’s privacy and confidentiality issues,” he said.
Devolin said he wasn’t too concerned about the centre not having March Break programs, given that the centre had not seen a demand for it this year, likely because of the pandemic.
He said he was optimistic that, by summer, the centre will be ready to support a full range of programs. He also explained that the town will not likely fill the position right away. With budget discussions for the new fiscal year ongoing, the municipality, he said, has an opportunity to re-think how it wants the centre to operate. He expects the municipality to take its time to advertise, recruit applicants and fill a new position. He explained that if staff envision a new staffing structure, the process could take longer, as it would have to be approved by council.
“Hopefully 60 days from now, we’re back to normal,” he said.
The Cultural Centre, located at 176 Bobcaygeon Rd., has been subject to sudden restructuring in the past. In 2015, former curator Darren Levstek was let go, amid a restructuring process.
A member of the centre’s advisory council expressed concern that town officials have been quiet about what has happened.
“I don’t know what’s happened, but there hasn’t been any public service announcement,” said Jim Mitchell, a long-time supporter of the centre, who has served on the centre’s advisory board for nearly two full council terms.
The committee had been scheduled to meet virtually on the morning of Feb. 22, but the meeting was cancelled just hours before its start.
Mitchell said the committee had good momentum in the previous term; at the end of the term it issued a report to the municipality with recommendations on how the centre could continue to be successful.
However, he said, work during this term of council has been sidetracked due to the pandemic and few public meetings have taken place over the past two years.
Mitchell said he hopes there will be renewed interest in getting the centre back up and running to its full potential.
“I think [the cultural centre] is a real potential gem, if not one that is undervalued and underrated at the moment,” he said.